Banana Republic Budgets

By tradition, Congress passes 12 bills every year that make up the annual federal budget. Normally, the bills are passed in mid-April, well before the start of the government’s new fiscal year on Oct. 1.

For the past four years, however, Congress has failed to pass a budget and the American government has been financed through a legislative device known as a continuing resolution. Continuing resolutions  authorize the government to continue spending at current, increased or decreased levels for a specific period of time.

The current budget crisis is the result of the expiration of one continuing resolution on Sept. 30, the last year of the government’s fiscal year and the Congress’ failure to pass either a new budget or a new continuing resolution that would fund the government starting Oct. 1.

With no spending authority from Congress, the government must shut down all non-essential operations. Hundreds of thousands of government employees will not report for work and will not be paid during the shutdown. The military, border patrol and Coast Guard will continue operating, but the men and women in those services will likely not be paid until the government reopens.

The United States government went through a government shutdown for 21 days in late 1995 and early 1996. The effects were limited because Congress had already passed some of the 12 budget bills. This year, however, Congress has passed none of the bills, so the effects of shutdown would be widespread.

Budget-by-continuing-resolution has created a series of crises over the past few years more befitting a Banana Republic than a superpower with the world’s largest economy. The same could be said for the chaos involved in raising the nation’s debt ceiling.

Congress, however, has chosen chaos over order because Republicans believe last-minute brinksmanship over the budget or debt ceiling gives them greater negotiating power with the Democratic president and senate.

The country of Egypt is in chaos because factions within Egypt do not like the president that was democratically elected. The situation there is not unlike that in Washington, where factions within the Republican Party do not like the democratically elected American president. Compromise and negotiation are the American way, the democratic way, the way this democracy has worked for more than 200 years.  If you are tired of the drama, tell your congressman and tell your senator.

Brinksmanship

The House of Representatives began debate Thursday on measures that would fund the government after Sept. 30, giving an official form to the war over a government shutdown.

The spending measure, however, is paired with one that would repeal Obamacare. There is very little chance that anti-health care reform senators could muster enough votes in the Democratic-controlled Senate to defund Obamacare, so the House opposition is largely ceremonial.

Even if Republicans do find the votes, President Obama has promised to veto any bill that cuts funding for Obamacare.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, the leading rhetorical bomb-thrower in the Affordable Care Act fight, concedes that defunding the ACA has little chance in the Senate, so it will be up to the Republican-controlled House to make the last stand.

Over the summer, Cruz and the conservative Heritage Foundation staged a nationwide series of anti-Obamacare rallies. His backtrack has attracted understandable criticism from House members. The House has voted 41 times to defund Obamacare, while Cruz’s fight has been limited to rallies, Tweets and Facebook posts, which have given him a measure of Republican celebrity, but have contributed nothing to the legislative process.

Nebraska’s delegation is divided by the issues.

Sen. Deb Fischer — Supports the strategy to tie Obamacare to continued funding of the government. Fischer told Nebraska Radio Network on Thursday that she doesn’t want a government shutdown, but that it might be the only way to force her colleagues in Washington to begin to take seriously the issue of spending and debt. nebraskaradionetwork.com

Sen. Mike Johanns — Has opposed Obamacare, but also described efforts to tie Obamacare to a government shutdown as “not a realistic plan.”The senior senator from Nebraska also noted that the ruckus being raised by Sens. Cruz, Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky was good for the trio’s presidential aspirations but would not be good for the country.

Rep. Lee Terry (1st District) — Supports the Republican strategy. “Obamacare is worthy of throwing yourself on the sword,” he told U.S. News & World Reports. usnews.com

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (2nd District) — Told an August town hall that he would oppose measures that would lead to a government shutdown and noted that President Obama would never sign any legislation that defunded the ACA. Fortenberry also said he would like to avoid another round of indiscriminate, across-the-board sequester budget cuts.

Rep. Adrian Smith (3rd District) — His official web site shows past support for killing Obamacare and a desire for a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget, but does not address the current situation on either topic. There were no related returns on a Google search.